Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ran an old-school Iowa Caucus campaign.
From his campaign launch in May, DeSantis and his young family spent countless days trundling on a tour bus through Iowa’s cornfields and single-stoplight towns.
He held events in all 99 counties. He played catch at the Field of Dreams, flipped pork chops at the Iowa Pork Tent and took a family picture with the Butter Cow. And he won the endorsement of powerful Iowa Republicans, including Gov. Kim Reynolds and evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats.
Counting his Monday schedule, DeSantis will have logged 138 events across Iowa by the time caucuses begin Monday night.
Tonight’s caucus will test whether DeSantis’ ground game in Iowa — those seven-and-a-half months of hand-shaking, door-knocking and driving — can match the fame and fervor of former President Donald Trump, who leads the January Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom Iowa Poll with 48% support among likely Republican caucusgoers.
At the Never Back Down office on Saturday, DeSantis told a crowd of supporters that they will never experience an election “as meaningful as this one is going to be,” urging them to brave sub-zero temperatures to caucus on Monday night.
“They can throw a blizzard at us, and we are gonna fight. They can throw wind chill at us, and we are gonna fight,” DeSantis told the cheering crowd. “They can throw media narratives at us, and we are gonna fight. They can throw fake polls at us, and we are gonna fight. We are going to fight because we are going to turn this country around.”
DeSantis dismisses poll results as his endorsers aim for a caucus win
DeSantis entered the race last year looking like the candidate best positioned to take on Trump in Iowa, but the Florida governor has stagnated in the polls, failing to gain any ground over his first Iowa Poll showing in August, when he earned 19%.
An Iowa Poll of 705 likely Republican caucusgoers was conducted Jan. 7-12, and DeSantis slipped to third place, with 16% choosing him as their first-choice candidate.
For weeks, DeSantis and his endorsers have repeatedly told Iowa audiences not to trust poll results. Steve Deace, a conservative talk show host and DeSantis endorser, told the audience at the Never Back Down office that “psy-op polls” and “biased media” will not determine who the Republicans nominee is.
“What’s going on in here is real. This is real buzz, the likes of which, this late in the process, I’ve never seen,” Deace said. “I’ve been on several campaigns in Iowa that won and they did not have the energy that we have right now on this campaign.”
But DeSantis and his campaign staff have been careful not to set any concrete expectations for caucus night. When asked by reporters whether he’d be happy with second place behind Trump or if there’s a caucus night result he’s aiming for, DeSantis responds that he will “do well” in Iowa.
When asked on Friday if second place would be good enough for him in Iowa, DeSantis said, “Look, we’re accumulating delegates.”
“You got to get a majority of the delegates. There’s obviously delegates here,” he said. “There’s delegates in New Hampshire … We’re gonna do it. So that’s the name of the game, we’re doing it.”
The Iowa Caucus is an expectations game: Even if DeSantis can’t vanquish Trump, a surprisingly strong performance could still boost him in the next contests. Amidst a blizzard on Saturday, DeSantis’ endorsers were ready to aim even higher, telling the audience for the first time that they believe DeSantis will win the caucus.
“I can tell you without hesitation: With the energy, the motivation, just what we’re seeing as we travel the state: This guy is going to be the winner of the Iowa Caucus on Monday night,” Reynolds said. “So fire up, keep this energy, we can’t let down. It is game day. We got to carry it across the finish line, leave it all on the field.”
DeSantis hopes ground game enthusiasm will counter extreme cold
The DeSantis kids — Madison, Mason and Mamie — saw snow for the first time on the Iowa campaign trail.
Now, Iowa is sending them off with the ultimate winter weather, complete with sub-zero temperatures and nearly 2 feet of snow.
Caucus Day may be the coldest ever, with predicted evening temperatures below zero and wind chill that could dip to nearly minus 20 degrees. DeSantis supporters are hoping that enthusiasm for the Florida governor will give him an edge, bringing people out in even the worst conditions.
“It’s going to be cold. It’s not going to be pleasant,” DeSantis said Saturday. “But … if you’re willing to brave the elements and be there for the couple hours that you have to be there, if you’re willing to do that and you’re willing to fight for me on Monday night, then as president, I’ll be fighting for you for the next eight years, every single day.”
Brianne Pfannenstiel contributed reporting.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Ron DeSantis bets robust Iowa ground game will pay off on Caucus Night
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